I grew up in a conservative church in a conservative town in Iowa and “Hellywood” was the enemy of everything righteous. Things are different now in the church. As movies have gotten more explicit, fouler, and more hostile to Christian values, Christians have enthusiastically embraced the Hollywood experience. Whatever dreck they drudge up and throw at a silver screen near us, we dutifully sit and enjoy. Some Christians are so concerned being seen as out of touch with culture that they are afraid to speak a word against anything that comes to a theater nearby.
The issue of discernment is a real struggle for Christians who enjoy movies. It is especially problematic when movies are biblically-themed. How much biblical accuracy should we demand from such movies?
That brings me to the subject of this post. Noah. The movie. I am not going to review this movie for one simple reason – I haven’t seen it. Don’t really intend to. I do not go to many movies, as I’m not crazy about paying 20 bucks to get in, plus another 20 or so for a couple of kernels of greasy popcorn and a swig of Pepsi. I wait a couple of months until they come out on digital pay-per-view, record them on my DVR for 3.99 (plus tax) and watch them at will in my easy chair. I don’t know if I will even bother to spend the 3.99 to watch Noah.
This is not so much a review of the movie Noah as it is review of the way Christians review movies. There has been a range of reviews I have read about the movie – most of which have been pretty brutal about how awful the movie is. Those reviews have convinced me that this is not a movie for me. This is a movie, evidently, that has as much to do with the biblical story of Noah as John Calipari has to do with ethics and integrity (sorry – I’m bitter right now). It is made by a professed atheist who has expressed that he had no desire to tell the biblical story but that he used the characters to preach the popular Hollywood message of environmentalist orthodoxy.
And, c’mon people. Rock monsters? Really? Someone who has seen the movie please tell me that they didn’t create some sort of rock monster characters to actually build the ark. I loved the movie Galaxy Quest, but does a Noah movie need rock monsters to tell the story?
Trevin Wax has written a post (How Christians are Responding to the Noah Movie) which gives a digest of many of the Christian reviews of the movie. I encourage the reader to peruse this helpful blogpost. For my purposes, I am going to look at three reviews on the extremes of the issue – two negative and one positive.
Barbara Nicolosi wrote a devastating review of the movie on Patheos, calling it “the stupidest movie in years.” It is one of the most entertaining reviews you will ever read and is worth the read even if you never intend to see the movie. A sample:
Please, stop the madness. It is astounding to me how Christians can be lured into a defense of the indefensible because they are so afraid of the charge of “unreasonableness.” Trying so hard to be nice, we end up being patsies for people who have no other agenda than to make money off of us.
Matt Walsh wrote an almost equally vivid review of the movie at his blog. He summarizes the movie this way:
On Friday, my wife and I had a very rare date night.
Naturally, we decided to spend it being pummeled by the blaring condescension of the most insipid, absurd, unimaginative, clumsily contrived piece of anti-Christian filmmaking to come along since, well, probably just last week.
In fact, if I learned anything from Noah, it’s this: despite popular perception, you can often judge a book by its cover. Also, giant deformed rock monsters make for awkward supporting characters.
Tell us how you really feel, Matt. He went on to say:
Christians: you’ll hear people insist that you can’t criticize the movie until you’ve seen it. Noticeably, the loudest voices in this camp are the ones who will (rather coincidentally, I’m sure) profit immensely if you meet their challenge.
You can hate this film without watching it, for the same reason that you can assume Citizen Kane is slightly superior to Need For Speed, without having seen either of them.
I will let the reader check out Matt’s blog to read the rest of it, but you get the gist. Noah is “skubala” and not worth your time or money. Other reviews have been published in this vein, but these two are the most memorable among them.
Frankly, they have pretty much convinced me that this is not a movie I would enjoy.
At the other end of the spectrum is the estimable Marty Duren who is more critical of Christian’s criticism of the movie than of the movie itself. His post does not make it clear whether he had actually seen the movie when he wrote his article, but he defends the movie itself while he skewers Christians who would dare to criticize it.
The title of his post is instructive. “Noah: Why Christians should stop complaining about biblical movies and watch them.” By that title, if Hollywood makes a biblically-themed movie, we are obligated to watch it and are prohibited from criticizing it. I am hoping that Marty is engaged in a little titling hyperbole here. I’ve done that myself. I do not believe Marty would say that any form of biblical discernment applied to movies based on Bible stories is verboten, despite the title.
He accuses Christians of a hyper-sensitivity to Hollywood’s failure to present biblically-themed movies in complete alignment with our orthodoxy.
If Hollywood has a checkered history with biblical movies, Christian responses are equally inconsistent. Partially at issue is whether followers of Christ should expect perfect alignment with scripture when the story is being told by a non-believer. Any deviation from the text sets loose howls of “war on Christians” or “war on the Bible.”
I cannot for the life of me understand why some pastors–who do not agree among themselves what the Nephalim are–can suddenly agree among themselves what the Nephalim are not. Common enemy and all that I suppose.
Reasonable point, Marty. We don’t know what the Nephalim are, but I’ve never heard any exegesis advanced that describes them as rock monsters who helped Noah build the ark.
Marty makes 5 points in his review. (The highlighted points are Marty’s.)
1. No movie ever gets all of a biblical story exactly right.
This is, of course, correct. Even movies that come from a perspective that is sympathetic to the Bible tend to dramatize the story in a way that sacrifices biblical accuracy. The 2006 movie “The Nativity Story” was an attempt to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. It was roundly panned by critics as too tame, and it did not score much at the box office either. I watched that movie and was not offended by it, but I could also find a lot to criticize in terms of biblical accuracy.
That does not bother me. Movies are movies. They are not sermons nor are they Sunday School curriculum.
But the implication (unintended by Marty, I believe) of his view is that biblical accuracy is an unfair rubric by which to judge movies. He engages in a bit of ad absurdum argument to buttress his point.
Besides, if Noah went literally by the book, viewers would have to listen to him preach for 120 years, then sit through 40-days of rain scenes, followed by months of floating. Theater preparation would necessitate dramamine and motion sickness bags.
That is nonsense, and I think he knows it. A movie can be accurate without being comprehensive. A movie could show respect for the biblical story of Noah without recording the entire 120 years of his preaching or by making movie-goers seasick.
Marty fails to make an important distinction. He is right that we ought not demand some sort of evangelical orthodoxy on Hollywood movies, but that does not justify his absurd point. We have every right to criticize movies that make a mockery of biblical stories, that so twist and pervert them that they change the entire meaning and purpose of those stories.
We cannot demand that Hollywood only make movies we like, but we can voice our dismay when they mock our sacred book. There is a distinction that Marty’s post does not make between demanding some sort of biblical orthodoxy from movies and criticizing movies that pervert biblical stories.
Ultimately, that is the point at issue here. Is Noah a benign movie that takes a few liberties with the biblical story or is it a perversion of story that is an affront to those who love the Word? Most of the Christians I have read who have actually seen the movie lean toward the latter view.
2. Too many Christians are like chained dogs that have been living on a diet of gun powder and pepper sauce.
I certainly agree, and have spent a lot of time criticizing those who seem to spoil for a fight, who demand uniformity and conformity to their theological preferences or they banish fellow believers as heretics, as involved in some kind of conspiratorial compromise, or as enemies of the faith. So, I agree with the gist of Marty’s critique here, but I think he walks the plank of reason in the force of his argument.
You have met them. You many (sic) be one of them. Always itching for a fight. Always critical of every. other. Christian. Especially where they can find any place of disagreement. They cannot see any view as orthodox other than the echo-chamber reinforced theology they themselves hold. Confirmation bias seems to be their spiritual gift.
Does not Marty comes across here as perhaps guilty of his own description – “A chained dog on a diet of gun powder and pepper sauce”? His criticism of fellow-believers who criticize the movie seems to me to cross the line of helpful insight and is pretty harsh.
I sympathize with Marty’s quandary here. Again, I agree with much of what he has said. There is a segment of the Baptist blogging world that takes destroying the lives and ministries of those with whom they disagree or designate as false as an act of worship. I have devoted a couple of posts and quite a bit of private conversation making the point that we do not serve God by doing evil. So I fully sympathize with Marty.
But again, I think, that he goes too far in his critique here. There is a place for Christian polemics and apology, but it spills its banks and does damage rather than provide insight. I still struggle with that. If Marty reads this, I’d love to see how his statement in this section applies to some of the messages of the book of Acts and some of the gospel stories.
Nowhere does Jude imply that “earnestly contending for the faith” means berating anything at all, much less everything in sight.
But John the Baptist berated Herod for his incestuous sin and lost his head over it. Had Stephen been conciliatory he might have not been stoned. His belligerent confrontation of Israel’s sin set off a mob scene that resulted in his death. Paul stood before the council in Jerusalem and annoyed them with the fact that God called him to the Gentiles, setting off a riot. When he spoke privately with Felix, who was both knowledgeable and perhaps positively disposed toward Christianity, Paul got in his face about righteousness and sin and Felix got annoyed, sending him back to jail.
This is not argumentative inquiry here, Marty. I struggle with this every day. I want to walk in unity with other believers, but there is a place where the pursuit of unity demands compromise and we ought not cross that line. If you have thoughts about how we can contend for the faith without being contentious, I’d love to hear it. But we cannot avoid contending for the faith!
What seems odd to me that some are unwilling to criticize a movie like Noah in any way, but are more than willing to disdain fellow-believers who do criticize it. And it seems to me that Marty unfairly caricatures those who would offer a negative view of the movie as “Constantly angry, critical believers.” Is it not possible for a reasonable, Spirit-filled, godly person to abominate this movie? Is it fair to classify all critics as somehow anger-driven folks who are willing to alienate unbelievers?
3. It is far better for Hollywood to explore themes surrounding God and miss by a little, than explore themes surrounding Jesus and miss by a mile.
Good point. Amen. However, I would question whether Noah only “misses by a little” in its exploration of themes surrounding God.
4. Religious and biblically-themed movies are cultural bridges for the gospel.
No real quarrel here, other than I wonder how often this really happens. The only time I saw this was with “The Passion of the Christ.” That certainly got people talking.
The question of course is whether the critics (like the first couple of reviewers I mentioned) or the sympathetic defenders of the movie are more accurate as to the content. If the movie at issue here is as awful as its critics say, it is hard to see how it provides much of a “cultural bridge” for the gospel. If it is the “near-miss” Marty describes it as, then his argument bears more weight.
5. Why is it so difficult to affirm the good rather than carping on the erroneous?
The same thing is true here. The question among the movies’ critics is whether there is anything good to affirm in the movie. Marty seems to think there is. Since I’ve not seen the movie, I cannot make a determination on this point.
Marty is pretty forceful (and with some reason) in his description of “Christian” movies. But that is not really the issue here. The issue is how Christians should respond to a movie that takes a biblical story and perverts it (if the negative reviews are accurate) so that it has little to do with the biblical story itself. Ought we to simply eat what is served to us by Hollywood? Have we no right to demand something different, something better?
Again, Marty chooses pejorative language to describe those whose viewpoint differs from his. “Carping.” That implies petty, silly, snarky and perhaps baseless criticism. Those who have seen the movie have offered some substantive (if vivid) criticisms that hardly seem to fall into the category of “carping.” That is dismissive and unfair.
There seems to be some legitimate grounds for criticizing this movie and caricaturing all its critics does not seem fair.
Here’s What I Think
1. Hollywood is not JUST about the money.
Yes, Hollywood is financially-driven. They are about the green. But it is foolish to think it is money alone that drives the movie (and television) industry. There is a liberal orthodoxy that drives what is produced there. Has there been a kids movie made in the last 10 years that did not promote environmentalist orthodoxy? The rapid sea-change in moral values in America was not an accident. TV and movies successfully promoted a view of sexuality that is diametrically opposed to biblical values. They won. We lost. Part of the reason was that we uncritically consumed everything Hollywood threw at us. The lack of discernment by Christians and Christian families in the last 25 years or so is as unsettling as the rigid, separatistic legalism of my youth.
In other words, the idea that Aronofsky did not have some kind ideological, even theological (atheological?) intent in his movie is foolish ignorance. The world is not neutral. It is loyal to the “god of this age” and darkened by the lies of Satan. Jesus told us that the world hated him and that it would hate us.
In other words, all the warnings I heard in my childhood about “Hellywood” were not completely inaccurate!
2. Discernment is a tightrope walk.
Discernment is a biblical necessity, using the Word to divide truth from error, light from dark, right from wrong. I will admit that many of the so-called discernment ministries out there give me heartburn. They are everything that Marty describes them as. And they damage the Body of Christ.
But still, discernment is necessary. We must find a way to exercise discernment without straying into tactless “carping.” I struggle with finding that line.
3. If we eat dreck, that is what they will feed us.
I am not an advocate of public boycotts. But I am a practitioner of private boycotts! I make a choice not to see movies for a variety of reasons. But I think one of the best reasons not to go see a movie like Noah is that if we make that movie a hit, Aronofsky will be motivated to make more such movies. I can’t control what is made, but I can control who makes money off of me!
The same principle applies to Christian movies. If we accept poorly written, poorly made movies because they end with someone praying the sinners’ prayer, we encourage Christian filmmakers to aim low. Granted, starving people do not often have choosy palates. We are often willing to watch low quality movies that support our values because we are so tired of movies that attack them.
But we ought to exercise personal discernment.
4. Movies are a matter of personal conscience.
If you watch to watch Noah, go ahead. You have a Lord and I am not him. You don’t need my permission to see it. If you want to criticize the movie, do so. If it is your conviction that this movie is unfit for Christian consumption, say so. If it is your conviction that this movie is a useful tool in fostering a discussion of a biblical topic, say so.
What we ought to be careful about doing is what we so often do. In my youth, Christians were often excoriated for going to the theater at all. Today, Christians can be excoriated for daring to criticize a movie. Both responses are wrong. Christians have the right to make a decision of conscience as to whether to watch such a movie. We also have the right to express our opinions about such movies. We ought to express those opinions with tact and ought to avoid questioning the spiritual integrity of those who disagree with our views on this issue.
These are opinions. Again, I’m not reviewing a movie, but reviewing reviews of the movie. I really don’t plan to devote 2.5 hours and a bunch of bucks to see this thing. I’d love to hear the views of people who did go to see it. But there is one overriding question I have as I close this.
Rock monsters? Really?